The song also known as “Fair Phoebe and her Dark-Eyed Sailor” originally from England, and is dated to a good approximation at the end of the nineteenth century. It is classified as a reily ballad or broken token ballad (because of the love pledge exchanged between the two lovers) on the model of a “return song” that was already the most popular in Classical times: in most of these ballads the man returns home after many years of absence at sea (war), and, not recognized by the woman, he puts her loyalty to the test. The girl, as a serious girl, refuses his courting because she has already been promised. The man so reassured, reveals himself to the woman and the two crown their love with marriage.
The ballad recalls the archetypal figures of Ulysses and Penelope, when Ulysses, returned twenty years after the war (and his vicissitudes in the seas) to his Ithaca in disguise, is not recognized by his wife.
Collected in England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and North America according to A.L. Lloyd all versions have a common matrix in the ballad published on a broadside printed by James Catnach (London 1813-1838) Flanders in “The New Green Mountain Songster” observes”The air to which it is almost universally sung, both in the old-country and American tradition, belongs to another ballad, “The Female Smuggler“.
Steeleye Span from “Hark! The Village Wait” (1970)
Christy Moore from Prosperus 1972
Quilty ( I, II, IV, VI, VII)
Olivia Chaney live The Mark Radcliffe Folk Sessions
As I went a walking (roved out ) one evening fair,
it being the summer(time) to take the air/I spied a female (maiden) with a sailor boy/and I stood to listen, I stood to listen/to hear what they might say.
He said “Young maiden (fair lady)
now why do you roam
all along by yonder Lee?”
She heaved a sigh and the tears they did roll, / “For my dark eyed sailor,
he ploughs the stormy seas.”
“‘Tis seven long years(1) since he left this land,
A ring he took from off his lily-white hand.(2)
One half of the ring is still here with me,
But the other’s rollin’
at the bottom of the sea.”
He said “You can drive him from your mind/for another young man you surely will find.
Love turns a sight and it soon grows cold/ Like a winter’s morning
the hills are white with snow.”
She said “I’ll never forsake my dear
Although we’re parted this many a year/ Genteel(3) he was and a rake(4) like you/ To induce a maiden
to slight the jacket blue(5).”
One half of the ring did young William show
She ran distracted in grief and woe
Sayin’ “William, William, I have gold in store(6)/ For my dark-eyed sailor
has proved his honour long”
There is a cottage by yonder Lee,
the couple live there and do agree.
So maids be true when your lover’s at sea,
For a stormy morning
brings on a sunny day.
1) Seven is a recurring number in ballads to indicate the duration of a separation. The reference to the number seven is not accidental: it is a magic or symbolic number linked to death or change. If a husband left for the war and did not return within seven years, the wife could remarry.
2) in this kind of ballads often appears an object through which the two lovers are recognized, either a gift exchanged or a ring broken in half as in this case
3) for gentle
4) A “rake” was a charming young lover of women, of songs, dedicated to gambling and alcohol, but also a lifestyle of fashion among the English nobles during the 17th century. And yet it is also a term used in a positive sense
5) wearing the blue jacket of the British sailor’s uniform
6) in other versions”I’ve lands and gold For my dark-eyed sailor so manly, true and bold
http://history.wiltshire.gov.uk/community/getfolk.php?id=926 http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=80849 http://www.itma.ie/inishowen/song/dark_eyed_sailor_kate_doherty http://mainlynorfolk.info/peter.bellamy/songs/thedarkeyedsailor.html http://www.christymoore.com/lyrics/dark-eyed-sailor/
http://www.wtv-zone.com/phyrst/audio/nfld/13/sailor.htm http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=149660 https://www.fresnostate.edu/folklore/ballads/LN35.html